Serve and Protect

This is a phrase famously associated with police officers in certain high-profile cities in America but it’s also a phrase I associate with the job of landlord. It’s a pun first made to me by the landlord at my local down in Southampton mumble years ago. The pub was a tiny Victorian establishment with a 2-barrel brewery that was visible through a glass panel behind the bar, so you could drink your Sweet Sensation [1] and watch the next batch brewing. I was told “Our job is to serve drinks and protect peace of mind. The brewer sells beer: the landlord sells happiness.”

I am tired of being told I’m a leftie, which I’m really not; but I’m equally tired of the assumption that if I were, I must ‘hate Britain’. That’s very Yankee thinking; that any progressive view or compassionate view or inclusive view is anti-patriotic. I am very proud of Britain, and of England as well. I am a patriot, though not a nationalist; I love the heritage of ancient law and modern music, of megalithic religion and inquiring minds. Poets and dreamers, singers and craftsmen and strong, clever women. I love the roots of our culture in folk music and the peace of our ancient oak forests. I love the beer. I really do love the beer. So I like to do a bit for St. George’s Day. For me, that means organising a band if I can afford it, getting in a few St. George’s ales. It means celebrating the traditions of the English publican; conversation, cribbage and a good time had by all.

So imagine my surprise when I heard that back in my old manor there are pubs with a distinctly different attitude to St. George. I arrived in the area a few weeks after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and was in Eltham the day 10,000 ANL members marched one way up a street which had the BNP coming the other. Welling Hall is just a few miles off and the Trax at Bexley is a well-known haunt for the skinheaded fuckwits. It seems obvious at first glance that this was a BNP celebratory riot. On the other hand, as the landlord’s son is keen to point out, it might be more complicated.

Now, I have no idea if Chavscum is reading this, and I doubt he is, but I think I can point to this incident as evidence in our on-going feud about the distinction between violent policing of football fans and violent policing of football hooligans. It turns out that according to the people on the ground, this was not a BNP riot. This was a football thug riot; started by Milwall fans, turned into a 40-lout barney in the carpark and then escalating into a full-on 300-strong street battle with improvised weaponry and a single, terrified Met patrol car in the middle of it.

I remember what the evening fight was like in the Rose and Crown on the Sidcup by-pass: I have quite a clear idea what this would have been. The barmaids would be desperately trying to get the kids out of harms way while dodging the flying ash-trays and screaming lager-louts with bike chains. After a couple of lads squared off in the yard, there would be mysterious arrivals every few moments, people who weren’t even in the bar when it kicked off. At the side, there’d be a couple of older men, just watching, no-one touching them or going near them. They’d have phones to their ears. Their right hands would rest nonchalantly in their jacket pockets. They would see everything, say nothing. And bizarrely, no-one else would have seen a thing. Never spotted ’em, guv. Never met ’em before. No idea who they were, guv. Honest. And by the time it was all over, they would have mysteriously disappeared.

*        *        *

The first thing that’s worth noting about the vigorous response from the BNP to the suggestion they were involved is this: the fight was not a racial attack. The warring twats were all white. This does imply that it probably wasn’t the BNP; and yes, the fight seems to have originated with a group of Milwall supporters who are known as the RA crew. It turns out that RA stands for ‘Racial Attack’.

Hmm. Now, if you’re a violent racist anywhere near Eltham you’re in the BNP. It’s what you do; either you’re with us, or you’re with the darkies. I’ve had men on the street phrase it to me in those terms; men armed with baseball bats. Milwall supporters have long been associated with extreme right-wing views, and with extreme violence. Many of the skinheads wear Chelsea’s blue but as many wear Milwall’s. So, this riot was from a known ‘firm’ of football thugs (firm; group who organise not to support football but to cause and enjoy violence under the excuse of football) called ‘Racial Attack’, outside (and inside) a BNP pub, just down the road from Welling Hall. No, the BNP clearly weren’t involved.

And let’s be frank, here; there’s no-one involved in this that can in any way be described as innocent. There’s no-one in this riot that isn’t culpable; all the victims were cowering inside and praying the police would come in force. What they got was one cop car, which was immediately pelted with missiles and driven away. Then what they got was 100 or more paramilitary TSG officers in full riot gear, who cleared the disturbance. Some notes of comparative interest, here: the local pubs locked their doors with legitimate customers inside, the police ‘set up cordons’ to contain the crowd but ‘the crowd dispersed when they realised they couldn’t get a drink locally’. That means that they were not kettled.

Well, now isn’t that interesting. This is what TSG are actually for: 300 armed extremists in a faction war, organised and fighting for over an hour, serious injuries being dealt with improvised weaponry, terrified women and children hiding behind locked doors. This is exactly what their ability to use superior organisation and equipment is for; enforcing an end to existing hostilities. And the tactic which works, now adequately proven in immediate context, is to ensure that you leave the crowd with an escape route so that they can disperse.

I applaud the officers who responded to this riot and who dealt with it in a practical and efficient manner. I applaud their leadership, who used proven common-sense tactics to end the incident as quickly as possible. Deny the thugs a target, confront them when they try to find one, make dispersal the path of least resistance. That’s what works. That’s what TSG are for. And, quite clearly, the Met know this.

But the thing I’m most glad about here is that the pub’s license has been suspended pending a review. No landlord who allows their pub to become associated with regular violence, football firms with names like ‘Racial Attack’ and extremist groups such as the BNP, deserves to be a part of the tradition I serve in. We have a legally enshrined duty that comes with the license: we’re responsible to and for our customers, for their safety, for their entertainment and for the quality of their beer. The landlord at the Trax should lose his license, because he failed in that duty. Britain is a land of ancient tradition and the publican is one of the oldest. We are honour-bound to our customers, to serve their beer and protect their peace of mind.

[1] The beer was named after a bomber that flew out of the area during WWII, whose crew(s) drank at the Hedgehog. It had a version of the plane’s pin-up nose art on the pump clip. Bass bought the pub, kicked out the owner occupier, ripped out the brewery and turned it into a student wine-bar type place, ending an independent brewing tradition over a century old. Stupid people, but rich ones.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Serve and Protect

  1. Falco

    “The beer was named after a bomber that flew out of the area during WWII, whose crew(s) drank at the Hedgehog.”

    It wasn’t the Hedgehog and Hogshead was it? Nice pub apart from the night before it shut down and some bastard broke two of my teeth with a pool cue for the crime of “being a fuckin’ student.”

    The barman did provide about half a pint of vodka as anaesthetic though which was decent of him.

    • johnqpublican

      That’s the place. The bearded feller and his wife who lived above were landlords when I was there regularly mumble years ago. It was across from where I trained the rowers/etc. as a circuit trainer. Used to get in for last orders, just, which tended to be ‘two pints of water, two pints of Sensation, one pack of mini-Cheddars, please!’

      Sorry to hear you got assaulted; the Hedgehog was one of the pubs where students and locals both drank amicably when I knew it. They didn’t mind folk singing during lock-ins, either, which I’ve always felt was very handsome of them. When were you about the place? I’m assuming from the phrase ‘night before it shut down’ you mean, night before they bulldozed it and put something else up? I noticed the building was gone last time I was on the Highfield campus.

  2. Falco

    I meant the night before it shut down as the Hogshead before reopening as a souless chain pub, (it was so bland that I can’t remember the name they chose despite working there for beer money).

    Re the assault – The chap was out on bail for another assault and was one of the less welcoming denizens of the Flowers Estate. Some great people, (I lived there in my third year), but also alot of crime and some real bastards, (setting five cars alight in one night as a diversion and lobbing bricks at children are the two that really stick out).

    This would have been between 99 and 2001

    • johnqpublican

      Can’t remember the name of the new incarnation but it was Bass who bought and stripped it.

      Timings; I got out of Soton slightly earlier than you, but I was about when the SU caused a major town/gown war by discussing (not actually doing, but discussing) inviting a BNP speaker to the debating society, so that they could have fun shredding him. Rumour got out and there were four student stabbings in a week.

      Flowers was a messy place. A mate and I got targetted by a small gang with knives one night walking home; we were walking home from fencing. No actual violence ensued, though a particularly entertaining duet of “That’s not a knife…” did occur as we both drew sabres in unison.

  3. Falco

    Reminds me of this from B3ta, enjoy:

    “Many years ago, some of my friends used to do the rubber-sword live action RP – dressing up as orcs and running about in the woods hitting each, that sort of thing.
    One Sunday a group of four or five were driving back in a van from an event where they had been playing Knights Templar when, driving past a bus stop, they happened to see some bloke pushing a girl about.
    I often wonder what went through the minds of the bloke and girl as a battered transit van pulled up next to them and a gang of knights in shining armour piled out. They restrained the bloke, hailed a cab and paid for it to take the girl home, and then gave the man a short homily: “Remember, son, hitting women is wrong – and we’re watching”, before leaping back into the van and screeching away.”

    • johnqpublican

      Fantastic! There was also the story from Newcastle a while back where a gang of LARPers who were doing it wrong in a public park ran into the local chapter of the Viking re-enactment crowd. They’d taken to ambushing innocent passers-by with their rubber weapons, and were seriously scaring people. They ambushed a party of fully-rigged Vikes. Who, of course, saw themselves being attacked by a group of strangers in full armour with swords. So, they counter-attacked. Difference being, their swords and armour were real. The LARPers in question were not heard from again (after they were discharged from hospital).